10 Helpful Books for Perfectionism and OCD

by | Aug 7, 2023 | Anxiety, Counseling, Online Therapy, Perfectionism, Stress


10 Helpful Books for Perfectionism and OCD

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As back-to-school season starts, many incoming students are driven by a desire for perfection in themselves and their academic pursuits. Perfectionism can be described as a relentless need for flawlessness and the tendency to set unreasonably high standards for oneself [1]. Although this drive can be motivating and produce quality work, it can also lead to detrimental effects on mental well-being. Perfectionism can be closely linked to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD. This mental illness can be characterized by intrusive, repetitive thoughts (obsessions) and ritualistic behaviors (compulsion) that one performs in order to alleviate anxiety [2]. 

Perfectionism and OCD share many similarities. For one, they both have a core nature of incessant thoughts and behaviors. Both involve a need for control and a fear of making mistakes, leading to excessive checking and rechecking of whatever their anxiety is rooted in. In academic settings, students with perfectionistic tendencies may often find themselves preoccupied with getting every detail correct, repeatedly reviewing their agenda, and feeling overwhelming stress over minor errors.

Individuals with OCD may obsess over the perfection of their work as well, and engage in compulsive rituals in order to prevent feared outcomes, which only perpetuates a cycle of anxiety. For example, a student may obsess over perfecting a school project until it feels completely finished, even though the project is good enough to be turned in. They may become stuck on working on this project compulsively, and feel unable to move onto a new task, even with their teacher’s instruction.

Despite their similarities, though, perfectionism and OCD have stark differences as well. While perfectionism is considered a personality trait, it is not considered a mental illness. OCD is recognized as a mental illness that can significantly impair one’s functioning in various aspects of life. 

Despite their differences, though, these disorders have something huge in common: they both can be very challenging to cope with. This is why we have compiled a list of books that we believe everyone with perfectionism, OCD, or both, should check out. Understanding your condition is often the first step to learn how to cope with it, and what better way than to educate yourself on why you are struggling. 

1. “Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior” by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, MD

“Brain lock” can be described as a state of “mental paralysis” in which one finds it challenging to make decisions or take action due to overwhelming conflicting thoughts. Brain lock can manifest in individuals with OCD and perfectionism, leading to an overwhelming sense of cognitive rigidity and an inability to break free from obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. This practical guide offers insights into the neurobiology of OCD and provides effective strategies to break free from obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. By combining scientific knowledge with mindfulness techniques, this book can be immensely helpful in empowering individuals to regain control over their minds and lead a more fulfilling life, reducing the impact of OCD on their daily functioning.

2. “The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance” by Sharon Martin, DSW, LSW

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a recognized and effective treatment approach for people struggling with many mental conditions, including perfectionism. CBT helps individuals identify and challenge irrational thoughts and beliefs, and it teaches practical coping skills to manage anxiety, reduce compulsive behaviors, and promote healthier responses to perfectionistic tendencies. This workbook provides evidence-based tools and techniques rooted in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy to assist individuals in breaking free from self-critical thoughts, building self-esteem, and achieving a healthier balance in their lives.

3. “Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts: A CBT-Based Guide to Getting Over Frightening, Obsessive, or Disturbing Thoughts” by Sally M. Winston, PsyD

Those with OCD often experience intrusive thoughts, which are distressing and unwanted mental images, urges, or impulses that intrude into one’s mind against their will. These thoughts are often unsettling and can trigger intense anxiety, leading individuals to engage in compulsive behaviors as a way to alleviate the distress caused by the obsessions. This book will help those experiencing intrusive thoughts work through them rationally, helping them become able to cope with them. 

4. “The Intrusive Thoughts Toolkit: Quick Relief for Obsessive, Unwanted, or Disturbing Thoughts” by Jon Hershfield MFT

This book is helpful because it offers practical and accessible techniques for individuals struggling with intrusive thoughts, providing quick relief and effective coping strategies. The book combines evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) methods with mindfulness practices to empower readers to manage their distressing thoughts and reduce the impact of obsessions on their daily lives, creating a path towards healthier mental well-being.

5. “The Perfectionism Journal: Guided Prompts and Mindfulness Practices to Reduce Anxiety and Find Calm” by Tina Kocol

This journal offers a structured and supportive guide to help individuals explore their perfectionistic tendencies and the anxieties that come with them. Through guided prompts and mindfulness practices, one can gain deeper insights into their thought patterns and develop healthier coping mechanisms, creating a sense of calm and self-compassion. An interactive approach allows one to actively engage with their perfectionism and work towards embracing imperfections.

6. “Loving Someone With Ocd: Help for You & Your Family” by Karen Landsman, PhD

Helping someone with OCD can be challenging because the nature of the disorder often involves rigid thought patterns and behaviors that are difficult to change. Additionally, individuals with OCD may experience significant distress and anxiety when confronted with attempts to disrupt their compulsions, making it important to approach support and intervention with sensitivity and understanding. Thankfully, this book can help you gain the skills on properly helping and caring for someone with OCD in a way that is productive to you both. 

7. “Letting Go of Good: Dispel the Myth of Goodness to Find Your Genuine Self” by Andrea Mathews

For perfectionists, the need to be “good” is often driven by an intense desire to achieve flawlessness, often rooted in a fear of failure and a need for external validation. This constant need for excellence can lead to intense pressure, self-criticism, and a constant sense of never “measuring up” to your own high standards. This insightful book explores the idea of shedding the burden of perfectionism and external expectations to discover one’s authentic self and embrace imperfections with self-compassion.

8. “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle” by Emily Nagoski, PhD

Those with OCD and/or perfectionism are likely to experience burnout due to their relentless efforts to be perfect and the constant need to perform compulsive behaviors. The constant anxiety they feel will likely lead to emotional and mental exhaustion. This book delves into understanding and addressing burnout, providing practical strategies to complete the stress cycle and promote well-being and resilience.

9. “Help for Hair Pullers: Understanding and Coping with Trichotillomania” by Nancy Keuthen 

Trichotillomania is a body-focused repetitive behavior characterized by an irresistible urge to pull out one’s hair, leading to noticeable hair loss and often causing significant distress and impairment in daily functioning. Trichotillomania is often considered as part of the obsessive-compulsive spectrum and shares similarities with OCD, as both involve repetitive behaviors driven by intrusive thoughts or urges. If you experience trichotillomania, this book can help you understand your behaviors and cope with the outcomes. 

10. “Wreck This Journal” by Keri Smith

“Wreck This Journal” can help those with perfectionism and OCD by encouraging them to embrace imperfection and let go of the need for everything to be orderly and flawless. The interactive activities in the journal challenge the rigid thinking patterns associated with perfectionism and provide a safe space to explore creativity without fear of making mistakes. By engaging in the journal’s activities, individuals can gradually loosen their grip on control, reduce anxiety, and create a more relaxed and accepting attitude toward themselves and their environment. Plus, it’s fun to do!

Oftentimes, learning about OCD and perfectionism is the first step to coping with it. Learning about what you struggle with can help provide a deeper understanding of the underlying motives and thought patterns that drive your behaviors. By reading and learning about these conditions, you are more likely to recognize when these tendencies arise, helping you challenge and reframe irrational thoughts and ultimately reducing their power over you. 

To discuss how therapy could help you during this season of your life, please contact me or schedule your free 15 minute consultation.

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